The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
An Oklahoma City police officer has been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the deadly shooting of a 60-year-old mentally ill Black man.
Sgt. Clifford Holman was charged with the felony Thursday in Oklahoma County District Court, more than two months after the Dec. 11 shooting death of Bennie Edwards in the parking lot of a business near the 2100 block of W Hefner Road.
If convicted, Holman, who has seven years of service on the force, faces four years to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving at least 85% of the sentence.
District Attorney David Prater filed the charge himself, and also filed a second-degree manslaughter felony charge in the alternative, which typically carries a two- to four-year sentence.
“There are always many things to consider when determining whether or not an officer’s use of deadly force is lawfully justified or not,” Prater said in a statement. “Any loss of human life is tragic, and I take these decisions very seriously.”
Concerning the shooting, authorities said officers responded to a call of a man bothering customers outside a store. Authorities said Edwards threatened officers with a knife and they attempted to de-escalate the situation with pepper spray and a Taser.
Edwards “ran at the officer, and he had a knife, and the officer was forced to discharge his weapon,” police Capt. Daniel Stewart said.
Edwards was pronounced dead at the scene.
Stewart, the police captain, issued a statement Thursday saying the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office informed the Police Department about the manslaughter charge on Wednesday. Holman remains on paid administrative leave.
” The District Attorney’s Office did not file charges against Master Sgt. Keith Duroy for his involvement in the shooting,” Stewart said. “All inquiries regarding this investigation should be directed to the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office.”
In a probable cause affidavit, Bryn Carter, a homicide detective and 27-year veteran of the Oklahoma City Police Department, said he was assigned to conduct an investigation into the matter.
Carter said in the affidavit Duroy, who has 28 years of service, first arrived on the scene and saw Edwards open a “folding style lock blade knife” in his right hand.
In 2011, Duroy shot a 28-year-old man in the 8300 block of NW 10. At the time, police said the shooting occurred during an altercation with the man, following a domestic dispute call.
Facing Edwards, Duroy called for backup, including an officer with a Taser.
Holman, who is a certified Taser operator, arrived on the scene to assist with the situation.
Edwards told officers to leave, while holding the knife in his right hand and pointing it at officers as they were instructing him to drop it, according to the affidavit.
Holman deployed his Taser at Edwards on two occasions. Edwards also was hit with pepper spray, “with little to no effect,” according to the affidavit.
‘Fired three shots unnecessarily’
After the second Taser deployment, Edwards charged toward Duroy with the knife still in his right hand, before turning east, “running away from officers.”
“Sgt. Clifford Holman dropped his Taser unit, drew his service weapon and fired three shots unnecessarily at Mr. Edwards as he was running away, striking him in his upper middle back, causing death,” Carter said in the affidavit.
A witness in a nearby vehicle posted a video of the shooting on social media.
The shooting death of Edwards sparked three days of protests, as well as calls for the firing of Police Chief Wade Gourley and the resignation of Mayor David Holt.
The Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson with Black Lives Matter-OKC applauded Prater’s decision to charge Holman, saying it was sensible and “simple logic.”
“So I don’t know how DA Prater could come to any other conclusion than to do what was just and to press charges against the officer,” Dickerson said.
John George, president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police, released a statement in support of Holman, saying Holman followed his training when Edwards “charged another officer.”
“A loss of life is always a tragedy, but officers must be able to protect one another when de-escalation tactics are ineffective,” George said. “In this situation, when faced with a disturbed individual armed with a deadly weapon, our officers used multiple methods of de-escalation and less-lethal options to try to avoid the use of deadly force. When those efforts were ineffective, the officers were put in peril when they were charged by the armed person.”
George said Holman upheld his duty and followed the law.
“We know these are trying times for Sgt. Holman and his family, and we’re here for them,” George said. “The FOP thanks every officer who puts on a badge to protect and serve, despite this challenging environment.”
Kyle Sweet, the attorney representing Holman, said in a statement Thursday his law firm respects the heartache Mr. Edwards’ family is suffering.
“But we are convinced Sgt. Holman acted lawfully, and we are proud to represent him as we fight these charges in a court of law,” Sweet said.
A history of mental illness
A spokesman for the Oklahoma City Police Department previously told The Oklahoman that Holman and Duroy did not have crisis intervention certifications — special training that helps officers understand and serve people with mental illness.
People in the area where Edwards was killed said he was frequently seen riding his bicycle and selling flowers.
Family and loved ones described Edwards as a mentally ill man with a gentle spirit.
Court records show Edwards had a long history of mental illness, was admitted to the state mental hospital and was treated with psychotropic medication.
On Aug. 11, 2014, Edwards was charged with felony assault and battery with a dangerous weapon after authorities accused him of using a paring knife to stab a female letter carrier.
The letter carrier suffered several cuts on her left shoulder, but was not taken to the hospital and continued her mail route, according to reports.
Edwards eventually was found not to meet statutory requirements for competence by a forensic examiner. His felony case was dropped.
Examiners noted they did not know of “any recently documented incidents or serious threats of self-injurious behaviors, physically aggressive behaviors toward others, or serious and immediate threats of physically aggressive behaviors toward others” from Edwards.
Recent criminal charges after police shootings
Amid protests against police shootings in recent years, the Edwards case marks another instance in which an area officer has been charged with a felony after using a deadly weapon.
In 2020, a Walmart security guard was charged in Oklahoma County District Court with assault and battery with a deadly weapon for shooting a fleeing shoplifting suspect on the Fourth of July.
At the time, Jimmie Odell Watts Jr. of Oklahoma City was an off-duty police officer at Langston University. He was put on administrative leave after the shooting, his attorney said.
The felony case is winding its way through court.
In December 2019, an Oklahoma County District Judge sentenced former Oklahoma City police officer Keith Sweeney to 10 years in prison after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a suicidal man.
Sweeney fatally shot Dustin Pigeon, 29, about 2:30 a.m. Nov. 15, 2017, after the victim called 911 threatening suicide.
Oklahoma County District Judge Natalie Mai told Sweeney he shouldn’t be treated differently because he is a police officer and a Navy veteran.
“You should and will be held to a higher standard,” she said.
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